One Speaks of Loss [poem] by Phillip Sterling

for Maril

Would we call what noise the world made before us
music?  When our father disappears this time
the scrap iron near his mother’s barn begins
to sing, begins to mouth at least some plaid
song of pinesmoke and hardcider, to wrench from
our jazz-ache the handsome twist of a sparkplug
ratchet, or those pleasures and appointments we’d
leave like dark casserole when the search is on.

Only in our silences do we hear it:
homebrew, cool-packed in compost and tied
with human hair.  And while it may be the first
we hear, it’s surely not the first to have sung.
Even now the Karmann Ghia, that stale heart,
roughhouses a melody from the wind—
Such salvage!  Such fatherhoods!  Such classrooms
we’d imagine!  Such teachers we’d become!

and never give a thought to where the left-behinds
hum, or where the sequined birds coo and stir.


Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[When asked what inspired this poem, Sterling wrote: “The poem ‘One Speaks of Loss’ is dedicated to Maril (‘Susie’) Nowak, who I first encountered as a non-traditional [adult] student in a poetry class I taught at Keuka College in upstate New York. We became friends; she assumed the role of an ‘aunt’ to my first four kids. Once we moved back to Michigan, Susie maintained a steady correspondence, sending poems and books and literary notes, as well as updates on her extended family, which included various ‘characters,’ particularly a father who was known to just take off, on a whim, to who-knew-where. My poem was in part a response to one of her letters. She lived in a ramshackle farmhouse on 100-acres in Yates County, New York; a Karmann Ghia was among the vehicles and farm equipment scattered outside the barn.”]

Image by rdhrdcnnnghm via Flickr Creative Commons

Phillip Sterling is the author of four collections of poetry: Abeyance (Frank Cat Press Chapbook Award 2007), Quatrains (Pudding House 2006), Significant Others (Main Street Rag 2005), and Mutual Shores (New Issues 2000), and the short story collection In Which Brief Stories Are Told (Wayne State University Press 2011). “One Speaks of Loss” first appeared in the South Florida Poetry Review, Fall 1990, under the title “The Voice Discovers Loss.”

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